John Fordham, Bishop of Ely

Born: c. 1340

Fordham, Cambridgeshire, England

Died: November 19, 1425 (Age c. 85)

Ely in History

John Fordham was born to a family that very little is known about and began his life in politics during the reign of Edward III. He became secretary to Edward the Black Prince, Edward III's eldest son and heir, in 1375 and executor of his will when the prince died the following year. After the death of Edward III the year after his son's death, Fordham became keeper of the king's privy seal under the new King Richard II, the ten-year-old son of the Black Prince and grandson to Edward III. Fordham loyally supported the boy king in his early reign. In 1381 it is reported that he was wanted by the rebels during the Peasants' Revolt, but he escaped unscathed. Later that year he was created Bishop of Durham, a see that gave him a generous income. When a group of disgruntled magnates, who called themselves the Lords Appellant, rebelled against the king in 1388 (killing or exiling a number of his favorites), the new bishop was one of many who were temporarily exiled from court. Ultimately, he was not brought up on charges at the Merciless Parliament (where the offenders were tried by the Lords Appellant). Throughout the remaining years of Richard II's reign, Fordham remained active in religion and politics. He was transferred by the pope to the see of Ely in 1388 and seemed to be happy with the relocation. There is very little known about  the activities of Ely during the reigns of Henry IV and Henry V except that he seems to have attended Parliament fairly regularly. He died in 1425 at around the age of eighty-five, outliving many of his contemporaries.

Ely in Shakespeare

Appears in: Henry V

The Bishop of Ely appears only within the first act of Henry V. He is seen with the Archbishop of Canterbury as the two men discuss whether the king will renew the wars with France, distracting him from putting a law into effect that would severely drain the incomes of many men in religious positions. Ultimately, the king agrees to renew the war after hearing the arguments of the two churchmen.


Davies, R. G. ‘Fordham, John (c.1340–1425)’, rev., Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 15 Nov 2009]

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